Many years ago, when I first went to Singapore, there was one particular building that fascinated me.
It was a huge white, square building.
On the front of it was a massive red swastika.
About twenty feet tall.
And underneath a large sign said ‘Temple Of The Red Swastika’.
I was simultaneously repelled and fascinated.
The swastika was the most hated symbol imaginable.
It represented everything that was worst in the human race.
It symbolised ignorance, and bigotry, and torture.
Diabolically efficient mass murder on an industrial scale.
It was such a horrible, embarrassing, shameful image many people couldn’t bear to look at it.
Certainly no one would want it as their logo.
On show, in public.
Twenty feet tall on the side of their building.
And proudly proclaiming underneath, it was a temple dedicated the spirit of the swastika.
A huge, bloody, red swastika.
That couldn’t be right.
I was getting cognitive dissonance.
The evidence of my eyes telling me one thing, my logical mind telling me the opposite.
Eventually, I thought I had to find out.
So, before I left Singapore, I went into the building to ask.
It was clean and quiet and quite empty.
There was no reception desk, just a large bare space.
Eventually an old Chinese man in a silk robe approached me.
He had a long white beard.
I asked him what The Temple of The Red Swastika was.
In slow, broken English he gently explained it to me.
This is the gist of what he said:
“I understand that for you, coming from the West, the swastika has a bad meaning.
For us it isn’t the same.
The swastika has been a Buddhist symbol for thousands of years before it was heard of in Europe.
The red swastika represents compassion to us.
The blood flowing to the four corners of The Buddha’s heart.
For us, the Red Swastika is something like your Red Cross.
A symbol of hope for those in need.
The way your Red Cross brings medical aid to people who have been stricken by disasters.
The Red Swastika does the same thing, but with Chinese medicine instead of western medicine.
We are founded on the belief that most of the major problems in the world are the result of conflict between the six major religions:
Confucian, Taoist, Buddhist, Christian, Moslem, and Hindu.
That is why our Temple is always kept empty.
This way we can all pray together because there are no altars with icons on them.
We can all pray to whatever god, whatever icons on whatever altar, is in our minds.
We can pray side by side, because there is no conflict.”
Everything he said to me was exactly the opposite of what the swastika represented to me.
Where I saw bigotry and hate, he saw kindness, and compassion.
What had seemed evil to me was the soul of goodness to him.
I could see it wasn’t the symbol itself that was bad at all.
It was what was done in its name.
We all do that in our lives, every day.
We do it because it’s easy.
We don’t have to think.
We blame the representation rather than the thing itself.
We demonise a symbol.
And that stops us thinking.
And stops us addressing the real cause of the problem.
And that is evil.